It’s looking pretty red out in the water, and it’s not red tide.
Some parts of the flats turn red this time of the year from all the redfish that are schooled up in our waters. This can be the best time or the hardest time of the year to catch redfish, because you’re either in them or you’re not. The redfish gather in schools because they are getting ready to breed in fall. That’s why October is always called Red October on my boat.
All the smaller fish that you see year round in the Harbor are just kids. Once they reach sexual maturity at about 30 inches, they will go meet up with other redfish to breed, and when they do they push offshore and just roam around coastal waters. That’s where all the really big redfish (and they can grow to 5 feet and almost 100 pounds) live.
Finding big reds offshore is cool but you have to get really lucky. But in early fall, those big redfish come back into the Harbor to meet all the new recruits. That’s when we have the opportunity to catch some real monsters.
Fishing schools of redfish can be a pain in the butt. Some days they are hard to find. Other days it’s easy. Actually fishing a big school of redfish can be very challenging. This is the time of year I will bring out the 7.5-foot Reaper rods so that I can reach the schools without having to get too close to them and scaring them. In big groups, they spook very, very easy.
I use 20-pound braid for casting longer distances. Yes, I am targeting fish 30 to 40 inches long, and maybe bigger. But those schools are in open water where I can use light line and not have to worry about them breaking my line off on anything.
For hooks, I like to use a 2/0 or 3/0 Rockport Rattler jighead most of the time, but you could use a 3/0 circle or J-hook if you don’t like jigheads. As for bait — well, you never know what they want to eat. I know I’ve mentioned before that you should bring the buffet on the boat, and it’s the truth.
The other day I was out on about 500 redfish in a school. I threw big white bait into them. Nothing. Live pinfish. Nothing. Cut pinfish, mullet chucks — still nothing. I even threw crab and they didn’t want that. Finally I put on a chunk of ladyfish and got whacked instantly. Every chunk of ladyfish we threw got hit right away. So you never know what they want.
Lure fishing for schooling reds can be very fun. Try throwing Gulp soft baits, gold spoons or your favorite paddletail. When you’re fishing these schools, you have to be careful — one wrong cast could spook the whole school very quickly, and there goes all the fun.
If they run from you, you won’t catch any by chasing them. Once you get behind that school and keep going after them, all you’re going to do is push them and push them. They will not settle down to where you can fish them. Remember what chases fish: Predators. Fish know to run from predators because their lives depend on it.
So instead, I’ll watch which way they are pushing and get way out from of them. That way I can get set up and have my baits already in the water for them to swim up to, instead of risking making a bad cast and throwing into the middle of them and scaring them.
One last tip: Big redfish live in the Gulf and are used to deep water. The passes offer them a very comfortable habitat. Even in the Harbor, they usually aren’t found too far from deep water.
This is the best time of year to catch big reds, so you better take advantage of it. Yes, fishing redfish schools can be great — but other times it just sucks. Take the good with the bad and enjoy your Red October.
Capt. Karl Butigian lives, breathes and eats Florida fishing. He owns and operates KB Back Country Charters (KBBackCountryChartersFishing.com) on the waters of Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico. To book a trip or for info, call him at 941-565-7325.